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Does SD-WAN Have a Role in WFH?

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Working from home
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As we’ve seen over the last two months, working from home for legions of business users and contact center agents is feasible — so much so that many remote workers are reconsidering going back to the office at all. This trend may force a networking rethink on how to deliver a robust employee experience.
 
Over the last several years, SD-WAN has served that role at branch offices, allowing IT to deliver UC, videoconferencing, and other real-time application traffic directly over broadband Internet connections rather than having to incur the cost and delay of routing it through an MPLS or other private IP network. For IT, touted benefits of SD-WAN, which is an agile, cloud-friendly approach, include centralized policy control, scalability, and real-time intelligent traffic forwarding.
 
But what happens if a branch with SD-WAN is now closed due to COVID-19? Can users still reap the benefits of SD-WAN?
 
Remote Access Solution or Hurdle?
Depending on how the SD-WAN is set up, and more importantly how it’s managed, a closed branch might or might not be an issue. For engineering firm Geosyntec Consultants, it’s been the latter, Edo Nakdimon, principal and senior IT manager of network infrastructure at the firm, told No Jitter.
 
That’s because it relies on an edge SD-WAN service that’s part of Cato Network’s Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) cloud platform, which also includes a VPN client. This has given Geosyntec “the ability to work remotely with no lags,” Nakdimon said. When it came time to pivot to work from home (WFH), Nakdimon said he was able to add licenses to meet the increased network demand, and users were able to use Cato’s VPN client for remote access.
 
With Cato’s global cloud backbone, Geosyntec has even been able to support QoS for remote users who rely on CAD and other bandwidth-intensive design software, as well as enable voice calling, Nakdimon said. "My experience with SD-WAN and the pandemic [has been] great. ... We didn't suffer at all as far as connectivity," he added.
 
While Geosyntec was able to make the WFH move easily with a cloud SD-WAN service, other enterprises haven’t had it so easy. Only about 40% of managed SD-WAN providers offer a solution that is “home office friendly” and includes remote access, according to John Burke, CIO and principal research analyst for Nemertes Research. Besides Cato, SD-WAN service providers able to facilitate working from home include Aryaka and Silver Peak.
 
Additionally, most enterprises — about 75% of the total — have deployed SD-WAN on premises rather than buying it as a managed service, Burke went on to say. To address WFH requirements, this means enterprises would also need to have a VPN in place.
 
Transitioning in Times of Crisis
Now the question many enterprises have to ask is whether continued investment in SD-WAN hardware makes sense.
 
In Burke’s conversations with different enterprises, he has found that they are approaching SD-WAN deployments in two ways. Some enterprises are putting SD-WAN rollouts on hold, as they address the more pressing remote work challenges. There’s a practical side to putting SD-WAN deployment off, too. As Burke posed: Why convert a branch to SD-WAN if it’s shut down or it becomes less profitable because of COVID-19?
 
Other enterprises he’s spoken with see this as an opportune moment to transition to SD-WAN at sites they know will be repopulated post-COVID-19. Since offices are empty, a network professional — or service representative if going that route — can visit these sites and do the installation work without the fear of spreading or catching COVID-19, Burke said. What’s more, many SD-WAN providers are offering free trials on either a monthly or quarterly pricing models to entice them to make the switch now, Burke said.
 
No matter where users are located, they’re going to expect a robust experience. As always, IT will have to decide what best serves its needs not just for today’s crisis but over the long term.

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